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The U.S. military command in Iraq has opened a formal investigation into allegations that members of a Marine Corps unit near Fallujah killed an Iraqi civilian in April, officials said Thursday.

Few details were available about the incident, which allegedly occurred April 26 near the town of Hamandiyah.

“Local Iraqis brought the incident to the attention of Marine leadership at a regularly scheduled meeting on May 1,” a statement issued by the Marine Corps command in Fallujah read.

“A preliminary investigation conducted by [Multi-National Force-West] found sufficient information existed to recommend a criminal investigation into the incident.”

Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer, commander of MNF-W, has asked the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to conduct the investigation, officials said.

The news comes on the heels of another investigation of Marine units operating in Anbar province and allegations they retaliated against a lethal bomb attack by targeting civilians.

“Several” Marines assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment have been removed from the unit and sent to the U.S. while the investigation into the Hamandiyah incident is conducted, the military said.

The battalion had been among the leading elements in the November 2004 assault on Fallujah and had been deployed to the area again earlier this year.

According to a news release from Washington, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Michael W. Hagee will travel to Iraq and address Marines about their conduct in fighting the insurgency.

“Many of our Marines have been involved in life or death combat or have witnessed the loss of their fellow Marines, and the effects of these events can be numbing,” Hagee was quoted as saying in the release.

“There is the risk of becoming indifferent to the loss of human life, as well as bringing dishonor upon ourselves. Leaders of all grades need to reinforce continually that Marines care for one another and do what is right.”

Hagee will not address the specifics of the Hamandiyah incident or the ongoing investigation into an alleged attack by Marines in Haditha that reportedly killed more than two dozen Iraqi civilians. That incident allegedly began with the death of a Marine in a roadside bombing.

U.S. officials have steadfastly refused comment on the specifics of either incident.

“The investigations are ongoing, therefore any comment at this time would be inappropriate and could undermine the investigatory and possible legal process,” Lt. Col. Sean Gibson, a Marine Corps spokesman at Central Command, said in an e-mail to Stripes.

“As soon as the facts are known and decisions on future actions are made, we will make that information available to the public to the fullest extent allowable.”

Reporter Jeff Schogol contributed to this report from the Pentagon.

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